NEW YORK - Calling for truth, rather than secrecy, to be the legacy of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, attorneys for a group of 9/11 family members are presenting oral arguments today urging U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein to release more than one hundred deposition transcripts and over a million pages of evidence relating to the aviation security failures resulting in the worst terrorist attack in American history.
In hearings being held in the September 11th litigation against the aviation industry, the families are arguing that public disclosure of these materials, which the defendants are trying to keep confidential, will strengthen our security and provide the public with vital information without compromising the defendants' proprietary interests. They are joined in their motion by The New York Times Company and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).
"This is about completing the historical record of 9/11," said Mike Low of Batesville, Ark., father of Sara Low, 28, an American Airlines flight attendant who was on Flight 11 which struck the World Trade Center. "To learn all the lessons of this horrific day, to protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks, and to know the truth — a foundation of our democracy — this body of evidence should be available to all of the American people."
"I have the right to know why my mother was killed on September 11, 2001 and the American people have the right to know how our nation became so vulnerable," said Paul Keating of Ashland, Massachusetts, son of Barbara Ann Keating, 72, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. "This information will ensure transparency and accountability, and it will empower our country to prevent future attacks on our citizens."
"This motion has nothing to do with classified information and everything to do with the defendants' abuse of the confidentiality process," said Don Migliori of the law firm Motley Rice LLC, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "None of the evidence contested today has been designated as sensitive for aviation security purposes. Rather, the defendants are trying to protect themselves from public embarrassment and legal liability by claiming that release of virtually every document in question would violate trade secrets."
As an example that the defendants' claims are groundless, Migliori notes that the families have demanded answers to questions about the qualifications of the preboard screeners on duty on 9/11, including whether they met the minimum requirements of fluency in English, high school diplomas and clean criminal records. The families also have demanded information about the training of the preboard screeners and whether or not the items used to carry out the hijackings, as reported on each of the four flights, were permitted on board those planes. The answers to these questions, these families argue, need to be open to the public.
"The defendants' arguments are insulting to those families who took the risk and pursued litigation over the no-fault Victim's Compensation Fund," said Migliori. "Sweeping this evidence under the rug would deny accountability to the 9/11 family members, handicap our nation's ability to protect itself, undermine our democratic principles, and prevent historians today and in the future from writing the complete record of this tragic, pivotal event."
Today's hearing on the plaintiffs' motion to set aside the defendants' claims of confidentiality is part of In re September 11 Litigation, pending before U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The families allege that the aviation security in place on September 11, 2001 was grossly inadequate.
The families first sought to have the confidentiality order removed in 2007. On March 19, 2008, the request was withdrawn as both sides tried to negotiate a resolution. That effort failed and the families renewed their motion on January 14, 2009. The New York Times Company and the RCFP moved for leave to intervene on January 21, 2009. Judge Hellerstein's ruling on the motion being argued today is expected soon.
"My daughter was a hero," said Low. "I learned only through this litigation and only in the last three months that, in her last terrifying moments, Sara stayed calm, tended to passengers and co-workers, and made sure that authorities on the ground knew what was happening on board. If Judge Hellerstein supports our motion, her legacy will be part of the history books. I can't think of anything more fitting for this amazing young woman."
"My mother volunteered countless hours to make her community a better place to live," Keating said. "In that same tradition, our legal action and this motion are designed to make America a better place, because everyone will have the same access to the truth. The more we know, the stronger we are."
"By shining the light of public disclosure on the evidence developed in this historic case, Judge Hellerstein can ensure that the enduring legacy of In re September 11 Litigation is to advance our nation's best traditions of openness, unity, and truth," Migliori said.
Motley Rice LLC is one of the nation's largest plaintiff's litigation firms. Headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, SC, the firm also has offices in Providence, RI, New York, NY, and Hartford, CT. For more information on this case, contact attorney Don Migliori (MA, MN, RI) by email or at +1 800.868.6456.